Flash-grilled: Shuko Oda

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled with Koya co-founder and chef Shuko Oda

Related tags: Restaurant, Chef, Japanese cuisine

Shuko Oda is co-founder and chef at udon noodle restaurant Koya, which operates two London locations in Soho and The City, and is currently celebrating its 10th birthday.

What was your first industry job?
Working part time in a deli in west London when I was 16.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I’d still like to be on my feet. I’m really into gardening at the moment, so maybe a gardener.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
A Japanese cookbook writer called Yoshiko Tatsumi. She writes of familiar recipes like simple consommé but made with so much care and love, it makes me rethink about cooking every time.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
Chewing gum, and shoes without socks.

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
Traditional, modern, emotional, nostalgic cooking.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Less is more. Don’t forget to stop and think (move your mind as much as you’re moving on your feet).

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A Japanese vegetable scrub Tawashi is a must in our kitchen, made of hemp palm fibres brushes thoroughly the dirtiest vegetables. It’s durable and tough with pointed bristles so it’s good for cleaning anything with a detailed imprint or wooden chopping boards. 

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Onigiri rice balls, made with freshly cooked rice, seasoned just with quality sea salt and wrapped in nori sheets.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in a restaurant?
Plate of grilled seasonal vegetables at En Boca. En Boca is a pizza restaurant in Japan – they have a few branches now, but originally started out in a beautiful wooden house in Karuizawa (Nagano prefecture) in the Shinshu mountains, surrounded by trees and their vegetable garden they would cook from. They had a small but extremely attractive presence, serving honest, simple food, cooked in their pizza oven. Their hospitality and food was warm, produce-led and full of love; the best way of cooking that touches people. 

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Japanese dashi egg roll and mayo hotdog.

Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
My grandparents who have passed away; my family and dear friends in Japan that I don’t get a chance to see very often; and Picasso.

What’s your earliest food memory?
One of the strongest early food memories is eating a whole roast peppery crab in San Francisco with my family as a 10 year old, and feeling very mature (though eating with our hands of course) and simply shocked at how flavoursome, tender and juicy it was.

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
I was in New York city on September 11th​ 2001 and after a week of being stuck in a hotel, I was in a deli near the Empire State building when there was an emergency evacuation. Someone banged loudly at the deli window and shouted ‘everybody out’ and we ran away. It was almost like the time stopped - everyone in the room stopped, looked at each other and dashed. The police on the streets shouted to everyone to run to the sea, so I ran. I had never felt my heartbeat in the same way before, and never have since.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
Vodka martini at Dukes Hotel, then to Karaoke Epoc on Brewer Street.

Favourite food and drink pairing?
Grilled smoked eel with Kukicha (roasted green tea of twigs and stems).

What do you consider your signature dish?
It’d have to be Japanese Okayu-porridge Kedgeree - we first served it back in 2015 and it’s normally on our breakfast menu. But, over the coming month we’re bringing it back for lunch and dinner, too! Koya turns 10 this year so we’re celebrating with the return of some of our signature dishes in October and November. The kedgeree just had to be on the menu - it’s one of my favourites.

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